Jewelry Issues

March 31st, 2011

I hate to bring up a difficult, uncomfortable subject when we’re talking about weddings, but I do think it is better to know all sides of an issue, especially if you are interested in eco-friendly events.  I’m talking about the environmental and political problems associated with the commercial jewelry trade.

The issues around jewelry can be tricky.

The issues around jewelry can be tricky.

Let me be very clear about one thing:  I am not saying that you are a bad person if you wear and like commercial jewelry.  I just want to make sure that you have enough information to make an informed choice.  I won’t pass judgment on your choice if you are happy with it.

There are environmental issues with gold, as well as political ones.  Diamonds and other precious stones, as far as I can tell, have fewer environmental problems, although there are political problems.

Gold mining and refining, according to one informed source, release large amounts of toxins into the environment, including cyanide, arsenic, and mercury.  Gold also requires huge amounts of water and electricity to produce, according to the same source.  Many who are concerned about the problems associated with gold mining and refining call it “dirty gold” because of its negative environmental impacts.

In addition, gold mining is believed to fuel conflict in places like the Congo and Colombia.  While not all of these conflicts make it into the news daily, they are ongoing sources of human rights abuses, death, and destruction.

The diamond trade also fuels conflicts in Africa according to the UN and Amnesty International.  While there has been some progress in restricting the trade of illegitimate diamonds that fund wars and abuse, it is still very difficult to ensure that a diamond comes from a conflict-free zone.

Fortunately, more and more jewelers are taking environmental and human rights considerations seriously.  It is becoming easier than in the past to find jewelers that carry no-conflict diamonds and clean gold.

If you want gold jewelry, look for a jeweler that uses recycled or reclaimed gold.  If they supervise the recycling process themselves, that is even better.  As far as I am aware, there is no certification process for recycled gold, so if this is a concern of yours, ask as many questions of the jeweler as necessary to assure yourself that their gold really is recycled.

But there are solutions to the problems of jewelry at hand.  Photo by MWD Photography.

There are solutions to the problems of jewelry at hand. Photo by MWD Photography.

Another choice for gold jewelry without additional harm to the environment is to find vintage jewelry.  Maybe there is even a piece in your family (or your soon-to-be in-laws’ family).  For example, I wear my husband’s great-grandmother’s wedding ring and he wears his great-grandfather’s.  The rings are a red gold, which isn’t fashionable these days, so it is a little different than anything you could buy in a store.  If there isn’t anything in your family, antique and vintage stores often have jewelry sections, and you can find some very nice pieces there.

Vintage diamonds are also one answer to the problems of new diamonds.  Some jewelers also import their diamonds from places like Canada where they believe the diamond trade is not involved in bloody conflicts.  But do your homework and make sure you have found a trusted source if this is an issue for you.

There is probably no perfect answer to these troubling issues.  The more people are aware of them, though, the closer we can come to solving some of these perplexing problems.